Note: I wrote this article a few weeks ago, as a “guest blog” submission for Kind Over Matter. I haven’t heard back from them yet, so I decided to post it here instead. I haven’t given up on posting for them – I love that site! – but I’ll craft something new when the inspiration strikes.
I have a bit of wisdom to share, but it might not be something you want to hear. I know I had some trouble accepting it, and still do on some days. But nevertheless, here it is: kindness begins with being kind to yourself.
I know. It’s easy to be kind to other people, much of the time anyway. But to myself? I tend to take myself for granted, or worse, focus on all my flaws, unfulfilled potential, and the things I should have done. Even in the realm of self-care, there are often more “shoulds” (as in, I should have done my yoga today, I should have planned more down time this week so I wouldn’t be so frazzled, I should take my vitamins) than there are moments of actual nurturing.
Still, I am discovering that kindness that doesn’t start with love for yourself simply isn’t sustainable. It’s a matter of learning to see yourself as a blessing, to appreciate the beauty, wonder, joy, and love that are at your core. We are not taught to do this. We’re urged to “for goodness sake, tone yourself down and be more like everyone else.” We’re taught to rely on others for validation of our inherent worth.
But that just doesn’t work, not in the big picture. What happens when you rely on someone else to fill your cup? Even if they love you, they’re caught up in their own experience of life, and they may not see your need. Even if you ask, they might not be willing or able to give you just what you want, when you want it.
And the asking can be hard. Recently I’ve noticed how easy it is for me to ask for help on behalf of others, and how quickly that falls apart when it’s for me. Last week we had a huge early-March snowstorm, after a fairly light winter. I had no problem asking my husband, the next day, to drive to my parents’ house and clear their walkways. I was about to go get groceries, and I didn’t feel like clearing off my car and getting all snowy. He noticed that I was sighing about it, and posed a very simple question: “why don’t you just ask me to do it, on my way out?”
Why not, indeed? If you’re like me, though, you don’t want to have to ask. Why can’t someone just know what I need? Well, guess what? Someone does: me – my own inner voice, my intuition. And I can avoid all the expectations and disappointment by getting clear about my needs, providing them myself when that makes the most sense, and asking for help when I want it. It sounds simple, right?
Really, even in the closest of partnerships (with lovers, friends, family, or colleagues), isn’t it best to come to your loved one from a place of joy and sharing, rather than one of neediness and lack? When you feel needy, go within. Stop what you’re doing and just listen. That deep longing is a sign that you’re disconnected from who you truly are. You’ve gotten cut off from your powerful inner source of energy and love. Don’t fault yourself for it. We all do it. We’re human.
“You can search far and in hungry places for love. It is a great consolation to know that there is a wellspring of love within yourself. If you trust that this wellspring is there, you will then be able to invite it to awaken.” – John O’Donohue
No one’s perfect. Being kind to yourself takes lots of practice. You’ll fall down, and get back up again. There will be days when you wish Prince Charming would ride in and whisk you away, or your Faery Godmother would just show up and take care of all this crap, already. You’ll feel like you don’t deserve your own tenderness. But other times, you’ll notice your cup is overflowing, and your light is shining especially brightly. You’ll have more creativity, love, and kindness to spread around. You’ll feel lighter and less guilty. Be patient with the process. Teaching yourself, gently, over time, to return again and again to your inner wellspring is the kindest act.